Five Steps to Fixing a Grumpy Customer

There have always been business pressures and things that don’t go right, but it seems customers are getting even grumpier.  They’re impatient.  Little things annoy them.  Their kids don’t behave.  Their teams aren’t winning.  Their cellphones are exploding with useless messages.

It’s like this.  You’ve delivered a product to a particular customer and it’s working well … but not perfectly.  You get a call.  The customer vents like a volcano.  You’ve just started on your Java Chip Frappuccino and suddenly you’re torn away from your happy place.  Your head spins.  Panic sets in.  What do you do?  Take a deep breath and follow these five steps:

  1. Have an open mind, because bad news can be valuable

No one wants to hear something’s going wrong.  But a customer telling you about a problem can be an opportunity to get it fixed before more damage is done (or even before your boss finds out).  Flip off your worry switch and press your action button.

  1. Be attentive and acknowledge the customer’s words and feelings

One of your first impulses could be to try and fix the problem immediately.  But that won’t really help until you fully understand the customer and connect empathetically.  Give full attention to what they’re saying even if they seem to be speaking in tongues.

  1. Ask questions and then ask more questions

Let the customer vent and expend that pent up emotional energy.  When they slow down a little, quickly move to fact-based questions.  This will get the rational part of their brains engaged.  Keep asking questions until you can piece together exactly what the problem really is.

  1. Make no excuses and avoid being defensive

No one wants to be blamed for something that goes wrong.  But you’re the front line for your company and it’s up to you to take responsibility.  Don’t say, “We didn’t do it, nobody told us, we weren’t there, it was the other people.”  That’s too much like the Bart Simpson defense: “I didn’t do it.  No one saw me do it.  You can’t prove anything.”

  1. Work out a mutually beneficial plan of action

If a get-well plan has not yet presented itself, ask the customer “What do you want?” “How can we make this up to you?”  There are things that can easily be fixed and then there are things that are not possible in the space-time continuum.  Somewhere in between is a solution you both can agree on.  Now you have a plan.  The customer is calm and reassured and you can get back to that Frappuccino.

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